Can you explain some apparent contradictions in the Gospel accounts?


Matthew 8:28 records two men who were demon-possessed. Mark 5:1-2 and Luke 8:26-27 record one man. Why? And how do you defend this to someone?

Also, Matthew records Jairus' daughter was dead in Matthew 9:18, but Mark records it at the point of death in Mark 5:23. Why?

Also, Mark records Jesus as saying take a staff for your journey in Mark 6:8. Matthew 10:9-10 and Luke 9:3 record it as taking no staff Why?


"When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way. And suddenly they cried out, saying, "What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?"" (Matthew 8:28-29).

"Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me"" (Mark 5:1-7).

"Then they sailed to the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee. And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time. And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!"" (Luke 8:26-28).

In order to declare a conflict, you must assume that Mark and Luke's accounts imply that there was only one demon-possessed man. Yet, the accounts do not so state. Each account gives an eye-witness view. Mark and Luke focus on one man, perhaps the man who was more notorious or more vocal. We see this all the time in the accounts of witnesses in court trials. Each person focuses on different aspects of the scene they witness. Some of the details overlap, but others are unique to each witness as they thought it was important to mention. All the witnesses can give a completely truthful account, and yet all can mention a detail that the others chose not to talk about. For example, Mark and Luke tell us the name of the demon in the one man they mention is named Legion, but Matthew doesn't mention the name because he talks about both men. Unless Mark or Luke state that there was only one demon-possessed man, we cannot conclude there was not another.

"While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, "My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live"" (Matthew 9:18).

"And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live"" (Mark 5:22-23).

If you read further in Mark's account, you will find that while he is talking with Jesus and traveling to his house, he receives word of his daughter's death. "While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue's house who said, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?"" (Mark 5:35). Matthew's account is a condensation of the two events. When the man left, his daughter was near the point of death, and he feared that it might be the case. Commentator Albert Barnes notes: "The Greek word, rendered is even now dead, does not of necessity mean, as our translation would express, that she had actually expired, but only that she was dying or about to die. Compare Genesis 48:21. It is likely that a father, in these circumstances, would use a word as nearly expressing actual death as would be consistent with the fact that she was alive. The passage may be expressed thus: "My daughter was so sick that she must be, by this time, dead."" Mark and Luke's accounts give greater detail and reveal that the knowledge of the actual death came as they were traveling.

"Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food" (Matthew 10:9-10).

"He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff--no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts-- but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics" (Mark 6:8-9).

"And He said to them, "Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece" (Luke 9:3).

Actually, if you read Matthew and Mark's accounts carefully you find that Matthew tells us that Jesus stated not to provide (acquire or purchase) staffs or sandals, yet Mark's account tells us that Jesus to take a staff and wear their sandals. Let us start then with the sandals. People commonly wore them; so we understand that Matthew's account is not saying that Jesus told the disciples to go barefooted, but that they were not to go out and purchase extra sandals in case the ones they were wearing wore out. Just as Jesus told them not to carry a spare tunic.

In the same way, notice that Mark has staff in the singular, but Matthew and Luke is in the plural. They were to take the staff that they currently had, but they were not to bring spares. A staff was often used to carry bundles across the shoulder. Since everyone walked, people commonly kept a staff with them for journeys. Matthew and Luke tells us that Jesus didn't want them running out to get extra, while Mark's account states they were to use what they had, just as they were to use the sandals they already owned.

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